My Team Isn’t Working Together Well

By Dr. Francis Eberle

I have heard some version of this many times from clients over the years. Leaders often tell me that a team isn’t as effective as they once were, team members don’t want to participate, or they need more cooperation so they can move faster.

Many leaders forget that teams are fluid. What I mean is they change over time due to variable factors. These can be things like someone joining or leaving the team, projects changing dramatically, tasks becoming routine, fear about job safety due to changing market forces, or more. All of these dynamics impact the people on a team and their performance.

Teams are more important now than they have been in the past, partly because problems are more complex than they have been in the past. Solving them requires multiple perspectives and experiences.

Studies of highly effective teams find that appealing to employees around purpose and their role in accomplishing that purpose is more effective to teamwork than other approaches, such as incentives or accountability systems. Not only that, but teams need ongoing support and encouragement when it comes to purpose. People have a tendency to relax or regress if not constantly reminded of their role in making the company work well, according to Andy Johnson, author of Pushing Back Entropy.

Leaders aren’t immune from this either. Johnson calls this regression entropy, or the natural decline into disorder or lack of energy. If one energy state is left alone without an infusion of new energy, it moves to lower energy states—or more simply put, goes “downhill.” A leader’s job is to help his or her team continue “up the hill” with support, appreciation and acknowledgement for what they are doing to meet the larger company purpose.

Additional studies from Google, ADP Research and Gallup found that when people on teams are engaged, they are more productive, creative and happier. To engage them, leaders need to guide purpose to accountability—but in a thoughtful way. One negative outgrowth of intense accountability systems is that people may act solely to achieve their performance measures, losing sight of purpose.

Jack McGuinness wrote about the important features of effective teams and how they optimize collaboration in today’s workplace. He agreed that an important factor was gaining clarity or purpose, as well as being clear about how to integrate that into how people work.

Doing the foundational work to ensure teams understand purpose can seem like a slow start, but without a strong purpose, frustration, floundering and miscues are more frequent.

McGuinness also stressed the importance of reinforcing collaboration principles on teams. As team members move into action, what is the behavior they have agreed to? Have they discussed how they will work? McGuinness’ skills for leaders fostering effective team collaboration are:

  • Communication—Be clear, direct, honest and talk often
  • Listening—Demonstrate that you value people and they are important
  • Feedback—Give and receive feedback, and adjust as exchanges occur
  • Compromise—Seek to understand, which means compromise and being humble
  • Dependability—Be accountable to yourself and the team

While these may not be new, and may seem quite simple, they are hard to do consistently. Actions such as team building days or retreats can help a team learn about each other. Even better, though, is to use these principles weekly so they become part of the way you work. This approach has a longer life span and more impact than one-day events.

I frequently use these basic principles with leaders and teams. Clients have seen results such as improved communication, reduced workplace conflict, uncovering hidden skills of team members, and overall positivity at work. Since our people are not static beings and will change, we as leaders need to continuously review and refresh our approaches with them.

To discuss these tips for teams and more, email Francis@price-associates.com.